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News makers/news fakers: Hoaxes

Discover how fake news is spread, why people create it, and what we can do to avoid it.

a picture of Abraham Lincoln with text next to him saying: The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they are often not true.


Image credit: Taboclaon, A. (2015)

Hoax and fact checking sources


Hoaxes deliberately set out to dupe people and have them believe outright falsehoods.

Generally, hoaxes contain just enough truth to make them seem credible. They also lie and twist the truth to create outrage, fear, and indignation. Hoaxers (the people who make hoaxes) often take advantage of their readers’ confirmation biases. That is, they write outrageous stories knowing that some people will want to believe them because the stories confirm what the readers already believe, even if the stories and the beliefs are completely unfounded and wrong. See the box below for more information about the confirmation bias and other cognitive biases.

Hoaxes differ from disinformation in their intent; hoaxers usually aren't driven by a political or social ideology. Instead, hoaxers either get a kick out of having people fall for their stories (rustling Jimmies), or they make money through clicks and shares.

Most hoaxes aren’t too difficult to spot, once we pause and think about the stories being told, and there are some great websites devoted to fact checking and debunking them, like those on the left.

More information about cognitive biases

Have you ever seen a face in an inanimate object like a tree or a chair?  This phenomenon, called pareidolia, is a great example of human beings' pattern recognition ability. Compared to non-human animals, humans are amazingly good at seeing patterns, which helped keep early humans alive. Unfortunately for modern humans, this pattern recognition ability can also get in the way of clear thinking, clouding our judgement and making us bad decision makers. We call these unhelpful thought process cognitive biases, and they affect all of us. Here's a short video that discusses just four of them:

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